What the Family Learned this Week

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Goodbye, Mr. Letterman!

I've been watching David Letterman since I was 11 years old. I had a Top Ten list in my high school paper. I gave a Top Ten speech at my high school graduation. My family had "Late Night" Christmas pajamas. The first phone conversation I ever had with Tim was about David Letterman. When I moved to Boston the first thing I did was send away for Late Show tickets. I sat in the theater catatonic, stunned with the amazingness of it all. I've spent the last few months showing my kids YouTube highlights and trying to get them to understand the genius that is David Letterman. I'm staying up tonight for the first time since the invention of the VCR and DVR to watch the show live. So if I'm tired and sad tomorrow you will know why! 
Here are just some of the gems that will stay with me forever!

Dave at Taco Bell

Dave and Rupert Annoy People

Dave Letterman & Zsa Zsa's Fast Food Car Trip

Outdoor Adventures

Fun with a Car Phone

How Many Guys In Bunny Suits Can Get Into H&R Block?https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQXDs0AOpGc&list=PLCJLiJ8uSJrBGts3qhcVt042PpqoHwQ7U&index=32

Seriously - just Yout
ube it and lose yourself in his comedic genius. 

And some interesting articles that provide context and retrospective.





Remember it's only an exhibition, not a competition. Please, no wagering.

What about that guy indeed!

And here are some additional Family Top Ten Lists that how our allegiance to Mr. Letterman.
Dad's contribution to his high school reunion....

Top Ten Things I’ve Learned in the Journey Since Orem High

10 – If you leave the state of Utah and BYU, and go to graduate school at Cornell in New York, during the turbulent 1960’s, you do not, ever, have a chance of becoming a Tea Party member (or a Republican for that matter).

9 – There is a combination of luck, good fortune and divine destiny when one gets assigned out of Naval Officer Candidate School to an Army Base in Albuquerque, rather than the Mekong Delta in Viet Nam, and there you meet your vivacious spouse of 41 years (Marilyn).

8 – With 6 remarkable, enjoyable married kids, and 14 grandkids, one realizes that the credit goes largely to their mom, and ‘who they were’ before arrival.

7 – When one works as an HR professional for 20 years for ‘The Man’ in corporate America, 10 years for elected politicians; and 15 years as a consultant assisting persons in their claims against ‘The Man’, the latter is by far the most gratifying.

6 – When one continues to drive the same car for 32 years (a yellow, 1973 VW, The Thing), one can safely deduce the owner is a cheapskate, stuck in his ways, nostalgic and believes convertibles make you feel 25 years younger.

5 – Regardless of your level of faith, family size and/or church responsibilities, Mark Twain best captures Sundays in his Diary of Adam and Eve, when he writes again and again for every Sunday, the same two words, ‘Pulled Through’.

4.  If your visible home furnishings include antiques, memorabilia, an old gasoline pump, framed rock’n’roll albums, and an original Muhammed Ali - Joe Frazier fight poster, you know the decorator is not from Deseret Book.

3.  You seem to want to get better acquainted with people who are fond of Sondheim, the Gershwins, American History, Aaron Sorkin, Ken Burns documentaries, baseball, and the driver who put this message on the back of his semi-truck, ‘It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark, and we’re wearing sunglasses’.

2.  If you and your wife leave idyllic southern Oregon after 25 years, and move to Idaho Falls, even to be nearer the kids and grandkids, expect people familiar with the climate to look at you and think to themselves, ‘decision making is not their strong suit’.

1 – When you get to a certain age you notice yourself adhering more and more to the Charles Barkley adage, ‘I may be wrong, but I doubt it’.

A Mother’s Day Card Hand Made by Kirse in 1990 that has been on the refrigerator now for the past twenty-five (25) years.


10 – I do and I do and I do for you kids and this is the thanks I get!
9 – I’ll take you out for ice cream if you let me buy you that new outfit.
8 – You’ll shoot your eye out!
7 – It is better to look good than to feel good.
6 – It’s December 26th.  Don’t you think this will make a good present for next year?
5 – I have my Sunday headache.
4 – Kevin Costner at the door.  It would take me about two seconds.
3 – I could write this stuff!
2 – Who do they think they’re dealing with?
On the Inside of the Card it Reads
1 – Hey, Don’t I deserve a Mother’s Day card?!?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

What I Have Learned from Teaching Online

For a little over a year now I have been teaching an online course. Teaching might be stretching the truth a bit - more like a glorified teaching assistant with very little power over the curriculum, assignments, or design of the course. But after looking for about 3 years for some sort of part time job that was related to my degree and not too disruptive to family life, it's worked well. I would prefer to teach in a real classroom and teach my own course, but if wishes and buts were candies and nuts we'd all have a Merry Christmas. I'll take what I can get. 

Here are some observations about the non-stop thrill ride that is online teaching. 

Students who Struggle Just Keep on Struggling

Although I wish in my heart of hearts it wasn't true, and as much as I try to help them, students who are struggling at the beginning are still struggling by the end (or they have dropped the course). And for some reason it's never the high achieving students who have their computers die, or their apartments flood, or their kid get sick, or who lose internet access. I'm not sure if it's poor planning, or bad luck, or an unfair universe, but students who fail tend to fail on multiple levels. This was also true when I taught in a real classroom, so it may be a truism of life. 

Students Think the Past is Simple

On the discussion boards and writing assignments, most students are very fond of blanket simplistic statements that by themselves have utterly no meaning whatsoever. For example - "The colonists wanted freedom." No, not exactly. Which colonies or colonists are you talking about? One-third wanted to stay loyal to the British Crown. What type of freedom? What about African slavery? Or this one - "The North hated slavery." Most Northerners hated the spread of slavery into the western territories, but the immorality of slavery itself, unless you were part of the abolitionist minority, was not a pressing concern. "We should follow the Constitution." Okay - which part? How do you interpret it? Who gets to decide what an amendment means? 
My mantra for the class is "the past is as complex as the present." Of course some of them don't think the present is complex, so maybe that's part of the problem. If my students are more confused leaving the class than they were when they entered, I've done my job. 

Some Students Don't Understand Technology or Email Etiquette

My all time favorite email was from an older student. The email read - "May? Are you there?" I'm not sure if this student was under the impression they were texting, or if I could read their thoughts. Other students write emails as if they are texting - without any formality or editing or clear objectives. I try to model back the way I think they should be composing their emails. And they respond with uncapitalized sentences and hard to read messages. Yikes.  And there are always problems with technology. I shouldn't judge, since at the beginning of this adventure I was asking Tim all the time for help. But I keep thinking that these younger people should be more tech savvy. 

Poor, Poor International Students

Here's a big surprise - students from other countries don't know a lot about American history or institutions. But they are required to take this class. They are at a distinct disadvantage in two ways - usually a language barrier, and often the utter lack of background in the subject matter. Although sometimes, through perseverance and Google, they manage to do just fine (sadly often better than my American high school graduates. I weep for the future.) 

Despite the challenges, I still think talking about and teaching about American history is the best! I still remain a very large history nerd. And I keep slowly and steadily changing the course in tricky small ways to make it more like how I would teach if given the opportunity. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Into the Woods - The Obsession Returns

The fascination began, unnoticed at first, in 1996.  Two of the kids, Brinn and Whitney, became cast members of the South Medford (Oregon) High School production of the 1987 Stephen Sondheim musical, Into the Woods.  Other than hear a group of traveling BYU students sing one very cool song from the musical (Ever After), and see the show win several Tony awards, South Medford’s annual musical choice was just a broadway show we knew nothing about.

The next step down the path was simply doing what dutiful dads do, get involved in your kid’s lives.  With the music/drama teachers reporting the musical as ‘very difficult’ for high school students, with fast/clever/overlapping lyrics (the very definition of Sondheim), it seemed a good idea to listen to the songs and, because of the complexity, that meant several times.  Looking back, that was the fateful decision;  the musical should come with a warning label, “this show is not responsible for the results of over-exposure to the lyrics and tunes.”

For most people, after watching each performance, the experience would be over, just a pleasant memory.  Not so much.  For me, it seemed that the exposure was just a start; to really enjoy the musical, one should obtain and read a copy of the script.  

By year end, it was clear the obsession was not leaving anytime soon.  The 1996 family Christmas letter (copy below) contained twelve quotes from the musical play, one for each month, tailor-made to either a family member, or events of the year.  The holiday letter begins with this explanation:  ‘Kent has become obsessed with the musical play, Into the Woods, and insists each month of 1996 include a quote.  Let’s add one more, “sometimes I fear you’re touched.”

The family did not seem to realize the seriousness of the malady and actually enabled the condition.  Marilyn gave a framed copy of an original broadway poster for Christmas.  The poster, of course, went to work, and has similarly hung in every work office since.

After that, the obsession remained somewhat dormant.  It would reappear when the local newspaper would advertise a performance that became a ‘must see’.  And, an eleven hour, one-way drive, to Salt Lake City, to see a touring Broadway performance, was captured in Act 1, Scene 1, “I thought I had been more than reasonable.”

That takes us to Christmas Day, 2014, when Disney introduced the film version of Into the Woods to the world.  To avoid a family crisis, the family went the day after Christmas.  And again, two days later.  It then seemed to me once should re-read the script and see the differences between the play and the movie. 

The play begins the same, “once upon a time—in a far off kingdom”, and ends the same, “into the woods, then out of the woods, and happy ever after….I wish.”  In between, “despite some minor inconveniences” (Act 2, Scene 1) the movie was a masterpiece.  It would have been nice if the closing song of Act 1, Ever After, was in the movie, 
“And it came to pass, all that seemed wrong was now right, the kingdoms were filled with joy, and those who deserved to were certain to live a long and happy life. Ever after!”

And, if would have been nice if the song No More were also included in the movie.  It contains a wise old age proverb, “How do you ignore….the false hopes, the goodbyes, the reverses.  All the wondering what even worse is still in store…No more”

I wonder what birthday present I will get this year?

1996 Christmas Letter